The 2014 East-West Shrine Game is teeming with overlooked talent and, fortunately for the Kansas City Chiefs, a sizable chunk of said talent lies at positions of need.
As it's currently constructed, Andy Reid's squad is in dire need of two things: playmaking wide receivers and reliable secondary support. Well, if you tune into NFL Network at 3 p.m. CT on Saturday, look no further. Seek and you shall find.
The rosters, particularly the East's, list a crop of young talent that show all the telltale signs of hidden gems.
However, the week is far from just an athletic talent show. The annual matchup itself benefits children in need, as ShrineGame.com details:
In addition to serving as one of the NFL’s primary sources for eligible players, the game benefits Shriners Hospitals for Children®, and helps support its mission of providing expert care to children in need, conducting innovative research and offering educational opportunities to medical professionals.
Shifting gears back to the gridiron, if you're from the Kansas City area, you may or may not find yourself genuflecting and giving thanks during halftime.
The coach of the West squad? None other than former Chiefs head coach and bulldog doppelganger Romeo Crennel.
Has the break from football revitalized him and cured his questionable decision-making? According to B/R's Michael Schottey, eh, not so much, claiming, "Romeo Crennel, however, coached the West squad, and the practice was one of the most poorly run I have ever seen."
In a vacuum, each of these things could probably be excused. Yet over and again, "Good luck, Houston" was the refrain from onlookers who couldn't believe that Wade Phillips had gotten fired for the man running these practices.
R Crennel will stay committed to East-West Shrine coach duties Jan. 18 before accepting Texans DC job. Wed 1st time ever met Bill O'Brien.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) January 11, 2014
Because nothing sells improvement like signing a previously 2-14 head coach to a previously 2-14 football team.
Good luck, Houston.
Enough with the depressing dwelling, though. Let's take a look at the up-and-comers.
Seantavius Jones, WR, Valdosta State (6'3", 200 lbs, No. 81, West)
The instant that I saw Seantavius Jones line up, my mind screamed "Plaxico Burress!" Then he tried to catch a pass...It was like when I was a kid and rented the NES Ninja Turtles game, thinking I was about to enjoy hours of arcade awesomeness on my TV, only to get home and find out the definition of "pixel" (damn you, eight-bit).
Jones has the kind of physical skill set that general managers drool over: towering size, sixth-gear speed and a wingspan that'd put Pterodactyls to shame. But his hands, at least in the shreds of film I was able to find, were substandard. His lethargic cuts also don't make him the best of route-runners.
If he can correct those two issues, a team will take a chance on him.
Nevin Lawson, CB, Utah State (5'10", 186 lbs, No. 5, East)
Nevin Lawson is a first-class run defender and blitzer. No matter the size, if you're in the open field and spot him in a full-blown beeline toward you, your bones are about to rattle like a maraca.
That being said, he's a corner, not a safety. His footwork is choppy and he doesn't tout impressive vertical speed or hip fluidity.
After jotting this down, he basically reminds me of a young Dunta Robinson who, at one point in his career, was actually a defensive playmaker. At least, he was during his rookie season.
Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech (6'2", 357 lbs, No. 70, West)
Physically, Justin Ellis looks a lot like Dontari Poe. He's just not nearly as athletic.
Ellis, like Poe, played in a 4-3 front at Louisiana Tech and was a run-stuffing nightmare for opposing offenses, demanding double teams on a routine basis.
The 357-pounder isn't going to apply quarterback pressure, and he desperately needs to add some more rushing techniques to his arsenal. Also, he has a tendency to become upright, allowing blockers to gain leverage under his pads. Ellis doesn't embody the freakish stamina that distinguishes Poe either, as he rarely participates in the entirety of drives.
Still, he's 357 pounds and flaunts a vicious bull rush that can send backfields into a panicked state of disarray. The Chiefs need to enlist a backup for their first-time Pro Bowler, and Ellis could be worth taking a chance on.
5. T.J. Jones, WR, Notre Dame (6'0", 195 lbs, No. 7, West)
There are a few facets of T.J. Jones' game that stand out on film. Most of all, his footwork.
Although he doesn't have game-breaking speed, Jones runs razor-sharp routes with clean cuts, and he boasts enough lateral agility to make him an open-field threat. Calling bubble screens for him became a weekly theme for Notre Dame.
Jones showcases reliable hands and adjusts to the ball well, particularly on back-shoulder fades.
And once he secures possession, defenders aren't bringing him down with an arm tackle.
Kansas City has yet to find a consistent slot receiver to complement Dexter McCluster. Jones definitely fits that mold and fits it well.
2014 Draft Projection: Round 6-7
4. Tre Boston, S, North Carolina (6'1", 205 lbs, No. 10, East)
Tre Boston could sit Saturday's game out and still make an on-screen appearance. He's constantly dancing, talking or firing his teammates up. If he and Richard Sherman wore identical jerseys, you wouldn't be able to discern who is whom (until the snap, at least).
Boston isn't the answer to replacing Kendrick Lewis. He briefly spent time at free safety but punctuated his final two collegiate seasons at strong safety. Initially, he also lined up at cornerback as a freshman.
The ACC standout won't headline a how-to tackling video any time soon. It's not that he isn't willing nor typically effective, but if he doesn't refine his approach, stronger NFL backs will be able to occasionally shed him. Again, though, No. 10 doesn't exactly shy away from contact.
Boston normally roams around on the back end of the defense, but he periodically flashes his corner skills by hugging the line in press-man. He also breaks on the ball exceptionally well for a strong safety.
Oh, and his ball skills are pretty prominent too.
Like I said, he wouldn't fulfill Lewis' potential vacancy. However, Lewis was only part of the problem. Kansas City regularly deployed nickel and dime personnel, moving Eric Berry in the box and placing Quintin Demps back as one of two deep safeties. If the Chiefs didn't collapse the pocket, that alignment generally ended with Lewis or Demps being dusted.
Boston isn't an every-down free safety, but he could develop into a more-than-serviceable fill-in for Demps at strong safety.
2014 Draft Projection: Round 5-6
3. Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan (5'8", 184 lbs, No. 80, East)
Despite spotty quarterback play, Jeremy Gallon still managed to become a renowned playmaker at Michigan.
Earlier, I commended Jones' footwork; Gallon's is even (slightly) better. He cuts on a dime, and his route-running is nearly impeccable. Gallon doesn't hint at his intentions by leaning his shoulders or turning his hips. He remains squared until the point at which he changes direction.
Gallon's hands are nearly as trustworthy. The 5'8" prospect had no shortage of crowd-pleasing receptions in college, including a bevy of instances in which he was pummeled without losing possession.
The senior can split out or occupy the slot, and in spite of his size, he doesn't simply fall at first contact. He's more like the bowling ball than the pin.
Predictably, given his stature, Gallon isn't a surefire burner—although, he did develop into a deep threat at Michigan—once he breaks into the open field, but if tacklers are on an island with him, chances are that they're about to double as a highlight victim. And while he's not a speedster, his base 40 time (4.52) is actually a hair faster than McCluster's (4.53).
Gallon also played an array of positions in high school, which included time at running back and a semi-successful stint at quarterback.
Like McCluster, he possesses a variety of abilities that concern defenses, which is something Reid has a soft spot for.
2014 Draft Projection: Round 6
2. Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt (6'0", 184 lbs, No. 23, East)
Leading up to the East-West Shrine Game, I thought that Missouri's E.J. Gaines—who will now be sidelined due to injury—would be the most vaunted cornerback after the last whistle sounded. Now, I'm beginning to think that could be Andre Hal.
The quickness and athleticism of Vanderbilt's lockdown artist are reminiscent of Desmond Trufant, the Atlanta Falcons' 2013 first-rounder who finished as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) No. 7 corner last season.
Zone, off-man or press-man, Hal can be a difference-maker in all three (he primarily played off-man in college). No. 23 illustrates keen instincts, especially in zone, and he has a nose for the ball.
Unlike Trufant, Hal isn't a timid tackler. He loves contact more than Philip Rivers, based on his attire, and loves high-noon shootouts and cheap saloon whiskey.
Drake Thomason co-signs.
What separates Hal from the pack, though, is his aforementioned quickness. If a route stops ahead of his backpedal, consider said route jumped. His hip flexibility isn't quite as sudden as his acceleration when breaking on throws in front of him, but it still falls in the "pro" column rather than "con."
Hal's fundamentals, while normally solid, aren't flawless. Every so often, there's a moment when less-than-ideal footwork affects his break, albeit rare. Even then, his quickness usually acts as a fail-safe.
On film, the only off-putting glitch in Hal's game is his habit of prematurely storming the backfield on handoffs. From time to time, his quickness, intuition and thirst for contact works against him, as he over-anxiously dips inside of wideouts and sees red. Consequently, receivers sometimes secure enough of a partial block to alter his trajectory, which then allows the ball-carrier to bounce outside and round the unset edge. It happens infrequently, but it happens nonetheless.
All things considered, the future draftee exhibits a unique flavor of talent and could progress into a respected starter over time. If he impresses in the East-West Shrine Game and encores at the combine, Hal could easily breach the latter half of the third round.
2014 Draft Projection: Round 4-5
1. Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood (6'2", 206 lbs, No. 3, East)
Last year, there were two defenders that I thought people were sleeping on and/or selling short, at least in terms of the two's respective projections: Kiko Alonso and Robert Alford. After Alford and fellow small-school prospect Johnathan Cyprien raised eyebrows at the Senior Bowl, GMs gained enough respect to snatch both of them in the second round.
This year, football aficionados aren't missing the boat on Pierre Desir.
Two things always hold true for D-II players. One, it's tricky to gauge their genuine potential due to inferior competition. Two, trying to find tape of them is like trying to spot Waldo after a Wisconsin Badgers championship (bless the next soul who fast-forwards through 40 minutes of Lindenwood vs. Fort Hays State).
Desir, for whatever reason, wasn't highly recruited (see Lindenwood) exiting high school, where he split time at safety and wide receiver. In fact, on his Scout profile, Missouri is the only university listed as showing interest—lining him and Gaines up on opposite sides of the field would've been borderline cruel—but it didn't offer a scholarship.
If there's one blemish on the rising talent's overall game, it's that he appears to be an average run defender. Unlike Hal, who's too assertive, Desir doesn't react and shed blocks as aggressively as defensive coaches would like.
On film, that's essentially the only weakness that the eye can find.
Desir's technique, specifically his backpedal, is textbook. A defensive backs coach would tag it as artistic.
Here, Desir (No. 3 at the bottom) plays outside technique knowing that he has safety help inside. The receiver darts off the line and runs a stop-and-go route. The outside technique is ideal in this situation because the corner has a clear line of sight to the quarterback, and his hips are open, which allows him to quickly plant against anything parallel to him or break into stride on vertical routes.
Desir shuffles with his shoulders squared and plants to defend the potential break without ever losing his center of balance. Due to that, he's able to quickly reaccelerate after the double move and match the receiver stride for stride.
On the following play, the defense employs Cover 4 or "quarters" coverage—the corners and safeties are responsible for their respective fourths of the field.
Desir gives his man a slight jam to the inside then abandons him in order to defend against the running back's wheel route. He angles toward the sideline and gets back in-phase with his target once again.
As previously said, Desir's run support tends to be prosaic. Comme ci, comme ca.
Which prospect should the Chiefs take a Day 2 or Day 3 gamble on?
But from a coverage standpoint, Desir often looks like the quintessential corner. He has extensive length, natural instincts and consummate fundamentals. And judging from the tape, he has the necessary speed and agility to boot.
Unless he has a poor showing on Saturday (doubtful) and/or disappoints at next month's combine (doubtful squared), Desir could land anywhere between Rounds 2 and 4. Obviously, the Chiefs forfeited their second-round pick due to the conditions of the Alex Smith trade. Depending on how the next few months unfold, they should still have a shot at plucking him in the third, though.
Like Hal, Desir has the physical assets and mental know-how to evolve into a prominent starter. And quickly.
Free agency, whose doors fling open on March 11, will obviously rearrange the roster and dictate team needs. Currently, receiver and free safety headline the latter. Desir is neither.
However, in the big picture, Dorsey's top priority is stockpiling good players. And branding Desir as "good" would be an insult.
2014 Draft Projection: Round 2-3
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